Monday, January 21

Always the Cover-Up

Lots of people have written, commented, and shared their thoughts about the whole Lance Armstrong issue, especially after his big reveal on Oprah.  #Doprah as they say on Twitter.

We all know about the inherent risk in using a celebrity spokesperson.  No news there, my friends, and I don't really think that's the real issue here.  We've learned that lesson over and over again.

What #Doprah showed me was a different kind of marketing issue.  When it comes to managing a brand - whether a personal brand or a business brand - it's always the "cover-up" that gets you in trouble, never the crime.

Never the crime, always the cover-up.

Just ask Martha Stewart or Tiger Woods.

Brands make mistakes all the time - whether accidental or intentional.  The key is to own up to it right away.  Tell your "audience" the truth and come clean.  Apologize and makeup for it.  Then move it ... chances are that your audience will too and will "forgive and forget."  Don't wait years for a big television audience, do it in the moment when it's sincere.

It's the string of lies that gets people in more trouble - far more trouble than they generally would have been from the original mistake.  When we see the crazy web of lies that was woven to try to prevent anyone from finding out, then we question the brand even more than we would have originally.

Never the crime, always the cover-up.

We feel deceived and manipulated and thought to be stupid -- emotions that a brand should never make consumers feel.   The cover-up becomes about US, not about the brand, and we react far more harshly.  If the brand had come clean to begin with, then it would have been about the brand making a mistake and learning from it.  We are pretty forgiving in these situations, but not when it comes to a cover-up.

Never the crime, always the cover-up.

A good lesson for all of us who manage brands, personal or business.  If we make a mistake, big or small, then talk about it.  Learn from it and share it.  Tell your people that you messed up and you just might be able to keep the brand.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
Author, The Experience Effect series
Marketing Professor, NYU


  1. It would take me three days to express myself on this topic. He let this get out of control and hurt a lot of people, as well as the sport, in the long run. All to cover up lies.

    I've been looking at this whole situation purely through a public relations point of view, removing any bias.

    Lance is a PR machine, always has been. The Oprah interview was the first step in trying to "rebuild" himself. For the situation and what the perception of Lance is at this time, he used all the right words. Stayed on point with whatever messaging he was fed in preparation. While he can't run from an admission now, he played it safe down the middle. He didn't want to fuel fire with any super-charged statements. This is about image building and where to go from here, not about this moment. See what happens next. Society has forgiven time.

    It would be great to repair perception of the sport in the US and it's a shame that he is the poster child for pro cycling in America. There are a lot of good, young American cyclists who work very hard at a grueling sport and ride clean. But we don't hear much about them in the mainstream.

    The most important thing is that LiveStrong continues to help people who need it because they really do great things.

  2. LiveStrong does amazing things, and no matter what we can't take that away from anybody. Jim.